In June, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, New York Gov. Cuomo began issuing big fines—up to $10,000—against New Yorkers and New York visitors who travel out of state to COVID-19 hotspot states but refuse to quarantine for two weeks after arriving in New York.
Yet despite Cuomo’s quarantine order, the state announced this week that it exempted all artists performing at the MTV VMAs from the quarantine requirements. Apparently video killed the radio star and the legitimacy of broad gubernatorial executive orders. By allowing state governors like Cuomo to issue broad and strict executive orders without going through the legislature, regulations and policies are enforced in arbitrary and confusing ways.
Artists like Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande are among those coming into New York from COVID hotspot states like California. Yet the state has justified exempting these artists from the state’s ban simply because MTV has promised that it will practice good social distancing orders.
This is in line with many other state governors who are threatening harsh fines for anyone who violates COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines, but are also giving big carveouts and exceptions from those orders for politically connected people and businesses.
Aside from reinforcing the arbitrariness of Governor Cuomo’s approach to the pandemic (Cuomo refused to exempt musician Ted Nugent from the quarantine order to attend and perform at a Long Island rally in July), this announcement shows the danger of giving complete, unchecked power to any state governor during times of crisis.
Performers at the MTV Music Awards should no more be exempted from the Governor’s quarantine orders than any other American. It’s doubtful that the Governor’s office would give a quarantine exemption to an average New Yorker who needed to travel out of state if they promised to follow the same safety protocols that MTV is promising for their musicians.
If Governor Cuomo believes the MTV Music Awards show is safe for the public and does not risk the spread of COVID-19, then ease up on restrictions and fines on New Yorkers and out-of-state visitors upon their arrival in the state as well. On the other hand, if Governor Cuomo truly doesn’t think it’s safe to travel to New York from the 33 or so states he has put on the danger list, then do not make up a nonsense, political exemption that runs the real risk of adding to the numbers of people who are infected, and the higher risk that New Yorkers will start ignoring orders that are appropriately designed to protect the public health.
Or even better: the New York Legislature should debate the state’s response to the pandemic and design laws using proper constitutional separation of powers principles to address how liberty should be restricted—or not restricted—to safely re-open the state while accounting for all the health considerations that the pandemic has exposed. A crisis like COVID-19 is not a blank check for governors to rule singlehandedly without any checks and balances.